Surfing A Wave Of Youth In Waikiki
It’s never too late … after a few (dozen) years break, Jim Byers discovers happiness is getting to hang ten again.
Each morning, I would scan the ocean from my hotel balcony. And there they were: the surfers, out to catch a wave at glorious Waikiki Beach. I felt envy. I wanted to get out there so much. I felt unease. I was scared to get out there again.
I first came to Hawaii when I was 12. I took to the waves nicely. Surfing, at least at relatively easy Waikiki, became a regular part of my trips to Hawaii. I surfed with my kids on Kauai maybe eight years ago and a couple times on Maui. But it was nothing like Waikiki, where a good ride can go on for 20 or 30 seconds on long, consistent, rolling, perfect waves.
In Honolulu a few years back, I took a surfing lesson but I didn’t like the instructor. I had maybe one decent ride in an hour, scraped my knee and went home dejected. Which was the backdrop to my recent trip, when I was staring down the idea of turning 58 and gazing out at the surfers and thinking about Jimmy Buffett’s line where he’s “an over-40 victim of fate.”
Part of me desperately wanted to get back out there. Part of me told me my surfing days were over. After two days in Waikiki, I had pretty much talked myself out of another try and was bemoaning the seeming fact that I might never ride again.
Canadian sports psychologist Peter Jensen, who has worked extensively with Canada’s top Olympic athletes, told me there’s a highly technical term for my indecision. “It’s called the chicken shit gene.” Jensen said it’s natural for someone older to think twice about certain activities.
“Part of your brain picks up that you might get injured. It’s something you haven’t done for a long time and you don’t have the balance you used to have. That’s simply a fact.” Jensen said imagery is the language of performance.
I was sitting on my butt a few hundred yards offshore when Howard saw a wave she liked. She gave me a push and yelled, “Paddle, padde, paddle!” I caught the wave, but my feet fell out from under me before I could properly stand up. “Almost had it,” she said.
The next try was no better. My legs weren’t far enough apart, my gaze wasn’t focused on the horizon and I wasn’t doing the crouch.
My arms were already feeling the pain. I don’t think there’s much we city folks do on a regular basis that mimics the way our muscles work when we lie flat on a fairly wide surfboard and reach our arms out and down and paddle like hell. Similarly, the necessity of being prone on a board moving at a fast rate of speed and suddenly (but not too suddenly) clambering to your feet to reach a balanced, crouching position requires the use of stomach, leg and back muscles I don’t remember having.
“Surfing provides many physical benefits, particularly core stability and balance,” says Amanda Stanec, head of Move Live Learn, LLC in St. Louis, Mo. “These two components of skill-related physical fitness are far too often avoided in day-to-day working out.” [Apart from] the strength and endurance attained through the paddling and swimming phases, surfing, Stanec explains, like many action sports, allows participants to tune out daily stressors as surfers are very present in their activity. “Thus, surfing aids emotional health as well as physical health.”
Back at Waikiki, I finally managed to pop up and get into position. The sea was spraying my face, and I was feeling the flush of a long-lost excitement for about a 10-second ride.
“Look at you!” Howard yelled.
Can’t get to Hawaii? You can learn to surf at a number of places in Canada. Go west with your board, newbie or wannabe surfer. Or go east. Or stay put. All over this land of bountiful lakes, rivers and oceans discover waves for riding and dudes and dudettes to teach you how to catch them. Most also teach the more stable sport of stand-up paddle surfing, using a paddle to propel the board and control movement, great for strengthening your core. Call before lessons for current conditions because Mother Nature is always in charge, and check whether all gear is included. —Judy Gerstel
Point Michaud Beach Provincial Park, Cape Breton Island Richmond County Surf School offers lessons on weekends from July 5 to Aug. 17 and weekdays from July 21 to Aug. 29. 902-345-0741; 902-227-1230
Lawrencetown Beach, N.S. Located 30 minutes from Halifax, East Coast Surf School offers lessons June 15 to Oct. 1. [email protected], 902-449-9488; onelifesurf school.com, 902-449-9488
Old Port of Montreal Habitat 67 in the St. Lawrence is said to be ideal for beginner and novice surfers. KSF School of River Surfing and Kayaking offers a three-hour introductory course, May 10 to Sept. 19. www.ksf.ca, 514-595-7873
Ashbridge’s Bay, Toronto, and other Great Lakes locations Surf Ontario’s Mike Sandusky offers revolving lessons: Ashbridge’s Bay near downtown Toronto and Bond Head on Lake Ontario; Grand Bend and Bayfield area on Lake Huron; Wyldewood Beach and Port Stanley on Lake Erie. www.surf